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Three Things to Know: Derrick Rose is (almost) back, drains game-winner vs. Pelicans

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Derrick Rose is (almost) back, drains game-winner to beat New Orleans. The saga of Derrick Rose is one of the biggest NBA stories of the past decade — we thought he might be the Player of the Decade when it started. Young Rose was an unstoppable force, throwing his body around and absorbing contact while making plays for the Bulls. Rose was the 2011 NBA MVP and his future seemed limitless.

Then in 2012 he tore his ACL. It was the first of a string of knee injuries that changed his career. Instead of owning the decade, Rose spent much of it in recovery from multiple surgeries that robbed him of his explosiveness, and he struggled without it. Rose had to put in the work to find and grow the craft in his game.

In 2019, Derrick Rose is back.

Almost. We’re never going to see 23-year-old Rose again, but the 31-year-old version is a different kind of force for the Pistons, a crafty player averaging 16.1 points and 5.8 assists a game who is one of the early contenders for Sixth Man of the Year. He is an integral part of what is happening in Detroit.

How integral? With the game tied 103-103 in New Orleans last night and time for one last shot, Detroit coach Dwane Casey drew up an isolation play for Rose. Blake Griffin wasn’t going to touch the ball, it was all Rose — with a good defender in Jrue Holiday in front of him. Rose got the bucket anyway.

In the locker room later, a reporter asked Holiday if Rose pushed off, and the veteran wouldn’t take the bait and instead praised the former MVP.

“He has everything,” Holiday said, via the Associated Press. “I think it was a good play on his part. I’m not going to take anything from him. He’s a great player and the shot that he made was a tough shot. There was nothing I could do about it.”

Rose was 7-of-8 for 17 points in the fourth quarter, including hitting a spinning layup with 38.7 seconds left to tie the game at 103-103.

Thanks to Rose, the Pistons got the win (their fourth in five games). It was Rose’s second strong fourth quarter in a row.

Rose is back. At least enough to become a player you want to stop and watch again.

And that story arc makes him one of the best stories of the last decade.

2) Nemanja Bjelica drains game-winner in Houston to give Kings impressive back-to-back wins in Texas. Maybe, after an ugly start to the season, Luke Walton’s Kings are finding their way. Maybe it was too early to write them off as a playoff team (it was, nobody in the West ran away with the 7/8 eight seed, leaving the door open).

Sunday night the Kings took down Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. On Monday night, it was the Rockets turn.

It was the best finish to a game all night (with apologies to Derrick Rose). Sacramento’s Buddy Hield had tied the game at 116-116 with a leaning three-pointer with eight seconds left.

Houston called a timeout, then Mike D’Antoni made a smart decision having the Rockets bring the ball up the length of the court rather than advance it — it allowed Russell Westbrook to pick up a head of steam. Sacramento sold out to keep the ball out of James’ Harden’s hands, and that left a lane for Westbrook to blow by Heild and get all the way to the rim for a far too easy lay-up. Houston was up 118-116 with one second left on the clock, and Westbrook was yelling “game over.”

Nemanja Bjelica then had his say.

Kings Twitter smacked the Rockets with the best trash talk of the night

Sacramento just swept a very difficult Texas two-step on a back-to-back. The wins improve the Kings to 10-13 on the season, just a game back of slumping Phoenix for the final playoff slot in the West. And this week the Kings will get Marvin Bagley III back (De’Aaron Fox is still a couple of weeks away).

Luke Walton seems to have the Kings headed in the right direction.

3) Gordon Hayward returns, Celtics ease him back in against Cavaliers’ “defense.” Gordon Hayward looked like he never left.

After a month on the sidelines recovering from surgery to his fractured hand, Hayward beat the timeline by two weeks and was back on the court Monday. The Celtics eased him back by bringing him in against the Cavaliers, a team that wasn’t going to make him work too hard to score.

Hayward had 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and generally looked comfortable in his return.

It’s good to see Hayward back, a guy having his own bounce-back year from a major surgery a couple of years ago. He has started to look like his vintage self. Boston could use that Hayward and shot creation in their next three games, which will be a little tougher: At Indiana, hosting Philadelphia, at Dallas.

Kobe Bryant’s helicopter was in holding pattern, advised of flying too low

Kobe Bryant helicopter crash site
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Kobe Bryant’s shocking death has left millions trying to cope.

For many, questions turn to the technical: How? How did Bryant, whose helicopter rides had become famous, go down this time?

RadarOnline.com:

“Hold outside Burbank, I have an aircraft,” the recording revealed the tower employee advising Bryant’s helicopter during the communication.

“He’s been holding for about 15 minutes,” a flight tower employee said about Bryant’s helicopter around 9:30 a.m.

Emma Parry and Chris Spargo of The U.S. Sun:

The pilot, Ara Zobayan, was told he was flying too close to the ground.

Per audio from before the crash, Zobayan said: “OK, we’ll continue holding.”

RadarOnline.com:

As the flight towers try to assist in the helicopter landing, they are cautioned about the “overcast” weather and their low flight level, meaning they were dangerously close to the ground.

“You’re still too low level for flight following at this time,” the flight toward warned the pilot on the audio.

Bryant’s helicopter was reportedly traveling north along the 118 freeway, turned west and followed the 101 freeway. After hitting heavy fog around 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned south and made a steep climb from 1200 feet to 2000 feet.

Moments later they reportedly flew into the mountain at 1700 feet and the vehicle was traveling at 161 knots.

There’s still more to learn, including whether the helicopter had mechanical issues. Perhaps, we’ll never get that answer. If we do, it won’t change anything.

Still, it feels natural to search for greater understanding of this inexplicable tragedy.

In Europe, Kobe Bryant recalled for his “Italian qualities”

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ROME (AP) — In Europe, where Kobe Bryant grew up, the retired NBA star was being remembered for his “Italian qualities.”

“All of the NBA players are important, because they’re legends, but he’s particularly important to us because he knew Italy so well, having lived in several cities here,” Italian basketball federation president Giovanni Petrucci told The Associated Press. “He had a lot of Italian qualities.”

“He spoke Italian very well. He even knew the local slang,” Petrucci added.

Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died Sunday in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. He was 41.

Bryant lived in Italy between the ages of 6 and 13 while his father, Joe Bryant, played for several teams in the country before returning to Pennsylvania for high school. Kobe Bryant spoke fluent Italian and often said it would be a “dream” to play in the country.

The dream almost came true when Bryant nearly joined Virtus Bologna in 2011 during an NBA lockout, only for the deal to fall apart.

“He was a supernatural,” Italian coach Ettore Messina, who worked with Bryant as an assistant for the Lakers, told the AP via text message while traveling with his current club, Olimpia Milano.

“To hear him speak and joke in our language and to remember when his father played here and he was a kid drew a lot of people to the NBA,” Messina said. “He was also always very attentive to help Italian kids arriving in the NBA and to help them enter such a tough and competitive world. He also did that with me when I arrived at the Lakers and I’m still very grateful to him for that. It’s very sad that his family has been devastated like this.”

Dating from his time in Italy, Bryant was a lifelong soccer fan.

AC Milan, one of the clubs that Bryant supported, tweeted: “We have no words to express how shocked we are to hear of the tragic passing of one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and Rossonero fan, Kobe Bryant. All our thoughts are with the families of those affected by this tragic accident. You will forever be missed, Kobe.”

The International Olympic Committee noted in a tweet that Bryant was a two-time gold medalist, adding: “Rest In Peace #KobeBryant You will always stay in our hearts.”

 

Miami’s Dion Waiters accepts responsibility for issues that led to suspensions

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MIAMI (AP) — Dion Waiters spoke about his issues for the first time in months Sunday, accepting responsibility for the matters that led him to being suspended by the Miami Heat on three separate occasions already this season.

Waiters didn’t specifically address any incidents, including his decision to take cannabis-infused gummies on the team plane and needing emergency medical attention when that flight landed in Los Angeles. That led to a 10-game suspension in November; his other banishments were for the season opener after complaining about playing time, then a two-week one in December for continued violations of team policy.

“I’m a grown man. I don’t point fingers. I’m could easily say this and that, but at the end of the day, it’s me,” Waiters said. “I made immature decisions. So, you know, I take full responsibility.”

Waiters finally made his season debut for Miami on Friday, scoring 14 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Miami plays again Monday against Orlando and Tuesday against Boston, and with several players — including perimeter players Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn all dealing with injuries — there still could be a spot for Waiters in Miami’s rotation.

“There’s so many moving parts right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You just want everybody to put in the time behind the scenes and get into a healthy head space where you can contribute when your number is called and he did that. He still has a ways to go with his conditioning, particularly game conditioning. That’s to be expected. But he’s a gamer.”

Waiters’ suspensions have cost him about $1.4 million in salary this season. That doesn’t include a $1.1 million bonus that he could have earned by appearing in 70 games, a level that has been mathematically out of reach for months already.

“I’m happy for him. I’m very happy for him,” Heat teammate Jimmy Butler said. “He’s working. He was ready to go out there and hoop and that’s all we were saying, just say ready. Now it’s all about trying to stack up however many good days you can.”

Waiters said he relied on family to get him through the suspensions and not playing, saying he would not let going through it all break him.

“I’m not going to lie to you, man. My kids. My kids, my family, my support system is so strong,” Waiters said. “I’ve got a lot of good people in my life. You find that out when you go through them times. This is the first time I’ve been through something like this in my life. … I don’t feel like I lost anything, besides my money.”

Waiters had a simple answer on whether he expects to keep playing.

“Hopefully,” he said.

 

Thunder’s Nerlens Noel to miss time after surgery to face

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Friday night against the Hawks, Thunder big man Nerlens Noel took an incidental shot to the face and left the game. He went back to the locker room, had it checked out by the team medical staff, and returned to the game.

Turns out, he needed surgery to repair his face after the incident, the team announced.

The zygomatic arch is the bone that connects the area around the eye to the rest of the skull, a smaller bone basically between the eye and the ear.

The good news is Noel is not expected to miss much time due to this surgery. Stephen Adams returned from his ankle issue to start on Saturday, and Mike Muscala will get more run with Noel out.

Noel is playing nearly 19 minutes a night for OKC averaging 8.2 points and 5.2 rebounds a game, plus shooting 67.8 percent (with 61.5 percent of his shots at the rim).